It’s almost like a clock that you wind up for a year or two and wait for the alarm to go off. In December 2008, Israel launched Operation Cast Lead, the first large-scale anti-Hamas campaign after its unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2005. Four years later, in November 2012, Israel launched Pillar of Defense, an eight-day air campaign in retaliation for incessant Hamas rocket attacks.
In the summer of 2014 came Protective Edge, the 50-day operation that saw the first rockets fired from Gaza into Tel Aviv. Now again, four years later, it seemed – at least on Monday – that Israel and Hamas were on the verge of another large-scale conflict.
In the decade that has passed since Cast Lead, the Middle East has dramatically changed. When it comes to Gaza though, it often seems like a story stuck in time. While the IDF commanders have changed, as have the Hamas leaders, for the most part the story of Gaza remains the same.
In 2012, for example, I wrote: “This is essentially the situation in the Gaza Strip since Operation Cast Lead ended in January 2009. Every few months something happens, setting off a round of violence that usually lasts a few days until it suddenly ends just like it began. Once it is an anti-tank missile attack against an Israeli school bus and the next time a targeted killing of a top terrorist. Either way, the scenario is pretty much played out the same way.”
I could have written the same paragraph in 2014 after Protective Edge, or again this week after Monday’s flareup.
There are countless reasons why there is violence between Israel and Gaza. First and foremost is Hamas’s charter that states the organization’s declared commitment to destroy the State of Israel.
But there is also the terrible civil state in Gaza that leaves people who live there with no sense of hope. While it might not be a full-fledged humanitarian crisis, life in Gaza is terrible. Sewage flows through the streets, drinking water is scarce, electricity is almost unheard of and unemployment is through the roof.
Don’t get me wrong – Israel is not to blame. This is all Hamas’s fault. It could, for example, decide to stop its terrorist activity, to lay down its arms, to reunite with Fatah, and to recognize Israel’s right to exist. In practice though, it does the exact opposite, and instead of investing money in infrastructure and welfare, it digs more cross-border terror tunnels into Israeli kibbutzim.
Hamas was hit hard this week, and after a day of fighting it pleaded with Egypt to help secure a cease-fire. But the day will come – possibly in a few weeks, months or years – when it will again feel the need to initiate a conflict with Israel. As Gen. Tal Russo, former head of the IDF Southern Command, said a few years ago: “We might be in a state of victory against Palestinian terrorism today, but this type of victory is always temporary.”
The question though is whether Israelis need to accept this reality in which every few years – sometimes four and sometimes two – rounds of violence break out. Is there a way for the next round to be avoided?
THE ANSWER might be no – as long as Hamas continues to rule Gaza and to seek Israel’s destruction, there is very little that can be done to change the reality along Israel’s southern border.
On the other hand, Israel is one of the most creative nations in the world, but when it comes to the conflict with the Palestinians, there is no ignoring the government’s prevailing approach to simply retain the status quo. This is the same approach taken with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, with whom talks haven’t been held in four years, and also in Gaza, where we have simply accustomed ourselves to recurring cycles of violence.
There are steps Israel could take to try and change the equation. One idea that came up a few years ago was docking a Turkish ship off Gaza’s coast with a massive generator that could help provide the Strip with desperately needed electricity.
Why was it nixed? Politics.
Then there are other ideas that have come up over the years, like establishing industrial zones or ports for Gaza either in Cyprus or on an artificial island off the coast. In both cases, the port and industrial zones would be managed by international monitors.
Why haven’t they moved forward? Also unclear.
Israel is not responsible for the situation in Gaza. What is happening there is the fault of Hamas, and the Palestinian people who elected it to power and who until now have refused to stand up and oppose the oppressive regime. But that doesn’t mean Israelis should be complacent and simply accept the existence of an Afghanistan-like state alongside it.
Better life in Gaza would make life better in Israel as well.
Israel has managed to creatively maneuver the situation in Syria, reaching secret agreements with some of the rebel forces and creating a deconfliction mechanism with Russia. Gaza is not Syria, but there are similarities. Israel should work with Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey to set up a system that could have the potential to change the Gaza paradigm. At the very least, it could delay the next round of violence.
On Friday May 11, an article appeared on the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s website.
Under the bombshell headline: “Charity headed by David Friedman, US envoy to Israel, gave money to terrorist group,” JTA reported that in 2013, years before being appointed ambassador to Israel, a charity led by Friedman gave some $12,000 to a group recognized by the US State Department as a terrorist organization.
The timing of the story was not a coincidence.
Three days later, on May 14, Friedman was scheduled to preside over a festive ceremony marking the moving of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It seemed like someone had an interest in publishing a hit piece on Friedman just before the historic event.
Like many newspapers and news sites which subscribe to JTA, we also posted the story on our site. But after a closer look, we took it down. To us, the story seemed flawed, and when JTA later issued a retraction, our instincts were proven right.
Apparently, it confused the name of the group that received the donation – called Komemiyut, and founded in 2006 after the disengagement from Gaza – with another group with the same name (Qomemiut) that was founded in 1994 as a successor to Kach, the far-right group banned in Israel that same year.
The earlier Qomemiut was the one designated as a terrorist group by the State Department, not Komemiyut.
Was there an agenda behind the publication of this story right before the embassy move? I do not know. But as media, we have a responsibility to fact-check stories before their publication.
In our case, the story was online for just a few hours and was then removed. For that alone, we apologize to Ambassador Friedman. But this case is a reminder of the bigger lesson all media need to learn.
Government transparency and criticism of public officials is important, since it is often the watchful eye of the media that keeps these officials in line. At the same time, public trust in the media remains low. In Israel, it is a mere 28%. We cannot neglect our ultimate responsibility: to ensure that what we publish is accurate and true. Above everything else, that is the foundation on which all we stand for is built.